Amid widespread and passionate outcry, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, Nevada) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R, Texas), who was the chief sponsor for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), decided to drop the controversial bill from being considered by the House Judiciary Committee last Friday. While the decision has been met with a collective sigh of relief from all corners of the globe, it is likely more of a temporary reprieve than an outright victory for web users and sites.

Both SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA (Protect IP Act) were proposed as wide-ranging, anti-piracy legislation that would seek to block any sites that are in any way connected to the sharing of pirated, copyright-protected material online. The problems with these bills are manifold and have been debated ad nauseum for the past few weeks and months. Aside from their rather blatant attempt to censor the free expression of ideas and speech, the bills would enact a quasi-police state on the web, making all websites responsible for every link and every sentence that appears in their content. The implications for SEM businesses would be potentially disastrous:

  • When generating new content, it would become necessary to verify every single source that you link to is not also violating SOPA in some way. This extends to articles, videos, images and any type of online content. Not only would this will be a huge waste of resources and time each time you post content, it would also substantially decrease interlinking between sites and greatly affect SEO.

  • Google indexing would become more difficult and time-consuming as they would also need to adjust to the new rules and regulations. Google would have to verify that every site they are indexing did not violate any copyright laws.

  • New back-linking methods might emerge such as “no-follow” or “no-right”. The SEO industry would adapt to SOPA and PIPA by linking to sources with much more caution. While that sounds nice in theory, it would mean that interlinking will happen but with specific codes such as “no-right-follow” which would mean that the linked site's information has not been verified.

In a reasoned rebuttal to Rep. Smith, the members of SEMPO (non-profit advocacy group for search and digital marketers) wrote the following, which has largely been echoed throughout the industry:

"Our members are intimately aware of the value of intellectual property. The mantra of most search marketers substantiates this: “Content is king.” Our members spend their days creating unique content for their clients so that consumers can better find and understand the clients’ products and services – and therefore be more likely to purchase them. We don’t like it when our content is duplicated or plagiarized either. It undermines our effectiveness. However, we find that we have all the laws and legal resources we need to fight IP theft right now. What SOPA seeks is not to target the perpetrators of IP theft or piracy, rather to impose upon innocent companies – companies that compose the Internet as a medium – a mandate to become policemen and lawyers, enforced with sanctions or jail time."

In the wake of the bill's abrupt death last week, millions have lauded its defeat as a major victory for online protests - one which saw the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon etc. joining forces with grassroots campaigns from ordinary citizens. And perhaps most ironically, the defeat of SOPA and PIPA has showcased yet again - after a year of historic examples in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt - the growing power of the web to galvanize people and affect change.

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